#COC1516: the new Ensemble Studio
The Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio have kicked off the 2015/16 Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre with their annual introductory concert, Meet the Young Artists. Eight singers and two pianists performed in what's called the "death by aria" style, each singer showing off an aria that shows what they do best. The space is intimate and airy, and spaces like that can be intimidating for young artists; even if there were nerves in the mix, the Ensemble Studio, with three new members, seemed a calm and professional bunch. Notable detail: the Ensemble this year has four (four!) tenors.
Tenor Charles Sy is new to the Ensemble, after winning Top Prize and Audience Choice Award in 2014 at the Centre Stage Ensemble Studio Competition. For this concert, he introduced himself with "Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön," (Die Zauberflöte) a brave move. He made the aria seem easy, with musical choices I hadn't heard before. He has a unique quality to his sound that's appealing to me, and the coming decades could prove pretty exciting for Charles. Hear him as Gastone in the COC's La traviata, opening October 8th.
Fellow brave tenor Aaron Sheppard sang "Dalla sua pace," (Don Giovanni) and I heard new evenness in his sound, with some beautifully quiet moments. In a larger space, Aaron might have been guilty of singing "off" his voice, but here it showed off his penchant for drama. Both Sheppard and Sy were accompanied by new Intern Pianist and Coach, Hyejin Kwon, who is developing a great orchestral sound at the piano. She shared the concert with returning Intern Pianist Jennifer Szeto, and it's a pretty neat thing to have two women pianists training at the Canadian Opera Company. Bravi, ladies!
The returning Ensemble members were a thrill to hear. I noticed significant changes for the good in all of them, and I'm excited for the work ahead for them this season. His ball-of-energy "Donne mie, le fate a tanti" (Così fan tutte) reminded me just how much energy Gordon Bintner puts into each performance. Like he did with last season's Basilio in the Ensemble Studio performance of Il barbiere di Siviglia, Gordon took a chatty, barky aria, and made music out of it. Go hear him sing Count Almaviva in the COC's Le nozze di Figaro. All set to take on the title role in February's Figaro is bass-baritone Iain MacNeil. He sang Malatesta's aria from Don Pasquale, and I really hope he's planning to get into more bel canto. Iain will soon have a cannon of a voice, and I heard some really exciting new ease at the top of his range. Great stuff for a Figaro to have.
Tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure also tried out a first in the Amphitheatre, singing "Where'er you walk" (Semele). His sound has always been honest and friendly, and now it's becoming more virile. Jean-Philippe is currently working as an understudy for the COC's upcoming Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, and his musical instincts fit beautifully with early opera.
All ears seemed to be on tenor Andrew Haji, as he sang a truly gorgeous "En fermant les yeux" (Manon). He kept feeding sound with more sound, even as he sang softly; I love when singers don't balk at such exposed arias like this one. Haji is getting ready for three performances of Alfredo in the COC's upcoming La traviata. This is a big deal for a current Ensemble Studio member, and I'm one of the many that can't wait to hear him.
The two ladies of the day both sounded spectacular. Soprano Karine Boucher gave us a taste of the COC's spring production of Maometto II with Anna's aria, "Giusto ciel, in tal periglio". This was just want I wanted to hear from Karine, her unobstructed voice in action. I've always loved her sound, and this Rossini was a stunner for her. Karine will have an exciting 2016; she'll sing Susanna in the February 22nd performance of Le nozze di Figaro, and Micaëla in the COC's spring Carmen, sharing the role with soprano Simone Osborne.
Aviva Fortunata finished the noon-hour concert with more of a scene than an aria, Verdi's "Toi qui sus le néant" from Don Carlos. This aria has settled well into Aviva's voice, and she was able to stretch easily through its huge range of high and low. She's a great actor, and she knew how to hold her audience through a slightly schizophrenic aria. I can't wait to hear her Countess in Le nozze with the Ensemble Studio. Plus, great #shoes.
If you've not already, check out the season line up for the Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, happening Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon. I'm personally looking forward to baritone Quinn Kelsey (Germont in the COC's La traviata), who will give a noon-hour recital in the Series October 27th with pianist Rachel Andrist.